God is not an explanation

One of the comments that I often read or hear from atheists as a reason for why they don’t believe in God is that since science has supposedly provided an explanation for things, there is now no reason to need God as an explanation.  Never mind, of course, that science still has no answer for the origin of life, and no real explanation for the Big Bang. The presumption is that science in time will provide these answers, too – what I have been calling the “science of the gaps” theory.  My response to all of this is that God is not an explanation.

The thinking that finding some other Cause is an argument against the existence of God is somewhat presumptuous: the presumption is that out of superstition, primitive man invented God as a cause for things he didn’t understand.  To further bolster this position, you’ll often hear Occam’s Razor invoked. Occam’s Razor, named after a 4th century Franciscan friar, William of Occam (or Okham), states that “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily” (I’m not really in favor of multiplying entities in any event). Isaac Newton restated the rule as “we are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” So, because various cosmological and evolutionary hypotheses can explain many things, God is superfluous. My response to this is:

  1. William was a Catholic friar who used the argument to argue, among other things, that the only entity that need exist is God.
  2. Occam’s Razer is only a tool for judging between competing hypotheses of equal merit; in other words, all things being equal, the simplest explanation it probably the best.
  3. Providing an explanation for how something happened does not preclude the possibility that the “how” was simply God’s method or design (in fact, showing order and consistency seems to fall in favor of God, not against).
  4. The concept of God is not advanced merely as a hypothesis to explain any effect; that thinking is somewhat backward.

Bradley Monton, one of my favorite atheists, says

Some who think that God exists think that God is directly epistemically accessible, through for example revelation, or some spiritual experience. But others who think that God exists think that God is only epistemically accessible via more tangential means. For example, they hold that the way to get evidence for the existence of God is by for example learning about the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of physics, or investigating the structure of a biological system and learning that it is irreducibly complex.

Science, of course, deals with what is epistemically accessible – or does it?  Monton also has this to say:

Are quarks epistemically accessible? Are events in the distant future epstemically accessible? Is the beginning of the universe (if there was one) epistemically accessible? Scientists make claims about such things, though it is clear that the epistemic accessibility we have to such things is (at best) more limited then the epistemic accessibility we have to everyday aspects in our lives.

Those who are looking only for an explanation (cause) that satisfies the “Occam test” are of course starting with what is epistemically accessible – the effects – and working backwards until they are satisfied with the proposed cause, even though some cosmologists are now proposing that cause may not be necessary (based on quantum theory). This, of course, takes science into the nether regions, where most scientists are reluctant to follow.

I believe that it is somewhat counterproductive to advance the issue of the existence of God in such a fashion; if we propose that God exists because of the design inference, or fine-tuning, or whatever, then we have competing theories (though not necessarily equal theories). However, that’s not how God presents himself, and neither should we.  Is God evident in nature? Of course. But, do we believe in God because He is evident in nature, or as Monton puts it, by tangential means?

My position (and I think the standard Christian one) is no; God is directly epistemically accessible, to use Monton’s phrase. In other words, God is directly knowable. In fact, all knowledge of God comes from God; we do not find God, he finds us.  Now here we are definitely speaking theology, not science (for those of you who need to keep track). However, here science is epistemically inadequate; science really only deals with the tangential. I am not apologetic about this at all; I find no need to make God scientifically accessible.  There are those who have elevated science as the supreme means to knowledge (or at least, information); I would put science a bit lower on the heirarchy. In fact, I propose that science is actually inadequate, even to study the material world, in and of itself. It is a tool, a method, in need of a context.

God is not an explanation, God is The Cause, in every sense of the word.  In dealing with science, or anything else, I presume God, because God is known directly, not through science.

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1 Comment

  1. Quixote wrote
    at 1:09 pm - 19th September 2008 Permalink

    If God IS the explanation, he’s got a lot of explaining to do. Then again, Job discovered that the Great Cause didn’t seem to think so.

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